• The {New} Age of UX

    Having just recently celebrated my 4-month anniversary with Adaptive Path, I’ve found myself in a state of reflection on my experience as a “newbie” here. While everyone I work with has been great, the work has been compelling, and I am enjoying every moment, I recognized that I was not reaching my full potential as a practitioner and offering what I was hoping I could deliver.

    Was it nerves? Was it because I was in a new environment? Or was it because I am one of the younger (at 24) and less experienced practitioners here and I was feeling under-qualified? Or am I just being ridiculous and no one even notices? A word of warning, working with brilliant people can definitely cause moments of self-doubt.

    [Rae’s new little one, holding a Sharpie. Future designer? Photo by Rae Brune]

    Trying to find the root of the cause made me wonder if maybe I am not alone in feeling this way. Maybe I’m not the only practitioner who is relatively fresh in her career, or who just transitioned from in-house to consulting wondering where she fits and the value she brings to this new world of UX. I promise this post is not an exploration into my own personal insecurities, but rather a conversation starter about the age gap between young practitioners who were “schooled in UX” and the more experienced practitioners who found their way into UX in a less direct way.

    Being a young practitioner, having worked only in-house before Adaptive Path, and having been “schooled in UX,” I wonder how different my (and others like me) perspective really is from the practitioners who have worked in the design industry five or ten+ years longer than I have. Are we bringing anything new to the table? Are we approaching problems differently? Are we offering anything valuable because of our age, our (lack of) experience, and our education? Having grown up in a very different world—digital natives with devices attached to our heads since childhood, teens trying to “find ourselves” and deal with the awkwardness of puberty while the world experiences disruption after disruption (Y2K, 9/11, economic crises)—maybe we were “raised” to become UX designers.

    Ok…maybe this is getting a little too “Brave New World.”

    I think the important thing here, especially for those who cannot agree or relate to me, is that I recognize our naivety and understand humility is necessary for young practitioners to learn and succeed. I’m not trying to be an asshole. But as I’ve found myself grappling with the question of legitimacy, I’ve started to realize that we’re all relatively new at this. As young practitioners are trying to prove their worth within UX, UX is trying to prove its worth within the world—in organizations, new industries, etc. While the “experienced crowd” may have been in some sort of design discipline the past ten years and have amazing experience working with clients, when it comes to process and results, we are all still trying to figure out experience design (and even service design) and its measured impact on the world.

    Maybe my “age” shouldn’t be my disadvantage, but actually my weapon. Are any of you having similar thoughts about this? Your age doesn’t really matter (even though that’s the topic of this post), but if you’re older and have been at this awhile, have you had any thoughts or observations on young practitioners you work with? If you are new to UX, are you having similar questions or doubts?

    I’m interested to see if this really is a common discussion or personal reflection in the design world. I’ve posted a survey here. If you have a moment, it’s only a few questions and your feedback will be very appreciated.


    There are 11 thoughts on this idea

    1. Sarah

      I agree with everything in the 3rd to last paragraph. They didn’t have IA degrees when I graduated. The industry moves so fast – I can’t say what the degree is worth. I’m grateful for 12 years experience. But we are all still just getting started here. Evolution is the only way to maintain relevancy. The next generation is part of that. We’ll just have to figure it out together. My bigger concern is for innovation. All ideas must come to the table for the innovative to occur. All UXers must stay true to that.

    2. Jamin

      Quite a few of us old folks were actually schooled in design, the human-centered kind. To my knowledge, there are no schools for UX.

      Respect your elders! 😉

    3. Toi

      Yeah yeah, Jamin. If you fill out my survey you could give me more data on all you “old folks schooled in design” 🙂

      And by school for UX, I mean any programs focusing on experience design, interaction design, service design, or any other design program that focuses on UX principles/approaches. Too broad? Probably.

    4. Kaycee A. Collins

      I am 25, relatively new to UX and share the same feelings. I started in the field at 22 and felt like the little kid in the room – no one wants to hear what I have to say.

      In my 2 1/2 years, I have learned so much, but I was not ‘schooled in UX’. I see more and more young UXers, like me, who have been and I feel a twang of regret. The simple truth is – I didn’t know about UX in school. I took the business route in college and received an MBA in 2010 when I was picked up as a UX Intern, falling in love with the field.

      Lately you see a lot of companies looking for people with ‘HCI degree or equivalent”. I am not really sure that the ‘or equivalent’ means considering in earlier comments we bring up the fact that there really is not a school for ‘UX’.

      So, to give myself more confidence, stifle the thoughts of inexperience that hinder creativity, and to feed my curiosity, I have decided to go back to school for a Masters in HCI. It took me over 2 years to get the gull to do it in spite of peers saying it was not necessary. But I feel like for the younger generations, it may become more and more necessary as the years go on.

      However, being over years into my role, I feel it gets A LOT easier. People begin to look at you for advice and not see age or inexperience, but the positive change/insight you have brought to the table.

      Two cents from a young UXer.

    5. Toi

      Kaycee, I commend you for sharing that! I’m sure there are many other young practitioners (or just practitioners new to UX) that can relate to your story.

      Thanks for sharing how you are moving forward. I think it speaks to what the next generation of UX may be coming up against. Maybe there will be more standard requirements/expectations once the discipline becomes more popular/understood/competitive?

    6. Evgenia Grinblo

      Funnily enough — I’m the same age as you and I feel exactly the same way. I really appreciate your courage to write about it. Drop me a line if you ever want to chat with an equally excited but self-doubting young UXer. 🙂

    7. Grant

      I think the iSchools are the best schools for UX currently. A library and/or information science/studies background is ideal for an IA, in my estimation. I know I learned all the core skills required for an entry-level IA position at the iSchool I went to (University of Toronto).

    8. John Z

      I am probably in the grandparent category of experience and not even “technically” a UX’er. My background is software engineering but have worked in the multi-media sector for many years e.g. doing UI design. I am a proponent of UX in general i.e. I see the value in the discipline and it’s importance to the technology sector in particular.

      Formal UX training offers an individual a toolbox that is filled with handy devices – nice and new and shiny – some of which will last the course and others that will break after a few tries. The more experience UXer who may not have had formal training would have started with an empty toolbox and gradually built up their tools – probably doing the equivalent of using butter knives as screwdrivers at the start. In the end both should have a useful set of tools that they can bring to the table. Note however that the experienced folk will probably have a better grip on how to use these tools (yes pun intended).

      I think that what good (and by this I mainly mean relevant) experience brings to bear is the ability to look at proposed ideas/solutions and say “nope that won’t work because of x,y,z that I have experienced in the past”. Not always true but these past experiences will act as good test-benches for your hypotheses.

      On the flip side I have had the privilege to work with some very talented young engineers/designers and what the good ones bring is a fresh perspective to problem solving. A lot of that is because they have not yet been indoctrinated by unnecessary processes or established points of view that more experienced individuals can succumb to.

      The ideal scenario is to have a manager that recognises the talents and skills of individuals (regardless of their age and experience) and ensure they are given the opportunity to use them in their work. Good managers create an atmosphere that allows the team to openly try out new ideas and be able to deal with constructive criticism when and if they fail.

      So when you young uns become managers please keep this in mind and break this cycle that has been talked about.

    9. Jenton

      This was a great article (and the comments were very interesting)! I stumbled across your blog post from the Mashable interview video with Jesse James Garrett.

      I’m 26 and about to start my master’s program at the School of Information at UC Berkeley with the hopes of being able to enter the field of UX.

      I think I’m feeling even more anxious than you are at being a newbie, because aside from having one UX related project under my belt (while working in a technology position at a bank), I have no other UX experiences to put on my resume.

      I guess my question for Toi and all you other newly employed UX professionals out there is:

      When applying for jobs related to UX, how do you present yourself to be as an attractive candidate as possible? What makes an employer want to hire someone who doesn’t have years of experience in UX?

      And my question for everyone in general is: are there any particular topics I should be focusing on during my next two years in school to best prepare me for employment in UX?

      Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide!


    10. Makoto Kern

      I was an Elec. Engineer before this, working on Human-machine interface tech and lean manufacturing. Then moved into UX/UI for the past several years because it’s something I love to do vs. just a job.

      UX is such a new and ever-changing field because the pace at which technology is growing. I don’t think it matters how old you are or where you came from – it’s your passion about what you do. If you are the type of person that loves to learn new things (and quickly), use both sides of your brain, know and use all the UX tools when necessary, good storytelling and have empathy for your users – you have a great chance of succeeding in UX… no matter the age.

    11. Jordan

      I learn a lot at Smashing Magazine from affordable books and free resources, but I have no degrees in any of this. If I am going to learn something it will have to happen more organically.

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